AAK USA, a leading provider of value-added specialty vegetable fats and oils used in personal care products and other areas, has opened a new space in Richmond, CA where it can be inspired by collaboration between internal product teams and local customers alike.
The company’s new Customer Innovation Center in Richmond supports co-development work with multiple industry segment-focused labs, including a personal care lab that focuses on solutions for skin care, hair care, color cosmetics and other personal care products that require high performing, botanically derived emollients. The facility also houses AAK’s US Center of Excellence for Plant-Based Foods, as well as a bakery and dairy and plant-based foods labs.
AAK has a leadership position in developing advanced shea-based ingredients that improve the functional and sensorial appeal of beauty formulations such as lip balms, lipsticks, sunscreens and lotions, to name just a few applications. Further, AAK’s materials make a positive difference to the socio-economic development of the communities in West Africa that rely on the shea trade for their livelihood, according to the company.
AAK’s state-of-the-art space in Richmond is staffed with an expansive team of product development experts with a deep understanding of the many roles that fats and oils play in a customer’s formula and in their process, labels and value chains. The team uses the same or similar equipment a customer would use, enabling AAK to provide hands-on co-development to tackle issues with formulas, ingredient statements, nutrition, processes and products.
Opening this new center on the West Coast will help fuel NPD, insist officials.
Our innovation centers are a “creative proving ground of AAK’s creative development,” James S. Jones, PhD, VP-customer innovation, plant-based foods, AAK USA, said during a conference call with editors earlier this month.
For Jones, the Richmond site delivers solutions to customers by way of collaboration.
“We test AAK solutions and prove them in our customer’s products, ensuring functionality before plant trials and production. Our experts evaluate the customer critical attributes of flavor, texture, appearance—and even sound—that impact the consumer’s organoleptic and emotional eating experience. Fats and oils are a critical component of flavor and functionality systems for many products, especially plant-based foods. We continue to improve our portfolio of customer prototypes and solutions in close collaboration with our customers. Not only do we help them with their own ideas, we also bring our customer-partners new product ideas.”
According to Steve Council, who is the Richmond Customer Innovation manager for AAK USA, the space provides AAK staff opportunities to collaborate and develop innovative ideas with colleagues that work in other key markets it serves. The site also houses AAK’s US Center of Excellence for Plant-Based Foods, a fast-growing category where AAK has witnessed a 10-fold increase in co-development projects.
“The greatest benefit of working closely with colleagues of different applications backgrounds is the opportunity to share knowledge and experience,” Council said. “By connecting similar formulation strategies from seemingly unrelated products, our open collaboration has led to a number of breakthrough product development concepts. In Richmond, we continue this style of teamwork and collective learning, delivering further insights and innovative solutions for our customers.”
AAK operates 15 Customer Innovation Centers worldwide and has opened multiple locations across the US during the past several years.
Octavio Diaz de Leon, president of AAK USA and AAK North Latin America, contends the Richmond investment “delivers on our commitment to providing our customer-partners coast-to-coast service and support. We accelerate innovation using AAK’s co-development approach, and our expansive team of fats and oils, bakery, dairy, plant-based foods and personal care experts, all coming together to create real-world formulation solutions.”
With the facility onstream, AAK is planning events in Richmond that will benefit West Coast customers.
“Now that Richmond is fully operational, we are hosting a series of Innovation Days to inspire West Coast customer-partners with a range of new concepts and ideas,” said Tom Welsch, regional sales manager, AAK USA. The events are highly customized to aid specific customer needs and accelerate speed to market of innovative new products, product improvements and cost savings, according to the company.
“As an R&D person, this is a stimulating environment,” Welsch told editors about the Richmond Customer Innovation Center.
All told, AAK has 22 production facilities and customization plants, sales offices in more than 25 countries and more than 3,700 employees.
Earlier this year, AAK was recognized with a 2019 Sustainable Beauty Award and named winner in the Sustainability Pioneer Category for the social impact of its Kolo Nafaso direct sourcing program in West Africa.